When Steve Jobs passed away, experts debated as to why China did not produce its own Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg? One contributor to Forbes explained that the emergence of such ‘innovative’ entrepreneurs “does not blend well with China’s culture of Confucian conformity to existing norms. Throughout China’s history, the established order saved little respect for inventors, entrepreneurs, and business pioneers.” There is some truth in this, but the Confucian conformity added to the Communist bureaucracy and the supreme importance of the Party’s diktats is today balanced by a tremendous will to ‘innovate’ in order to materialise the Chinese Dream. The Indian Dream has unfortunately not even been formulated as yet. It is a great pity because the ingredients (brains) are very much present.
Chinese plans for the new proposed engine have triggered wide-spread skepticism…
A few months ago, The People’s Daily provided some details on the Chinese Dream, so dear to President Xi Jinping. The mouthpiece of the Communist Party first explains why a Dream, “The concept of Chinese dream has been widely spread for some time. In the context of weak economic recovery, complicated security situation and accelerated adjustment of international order, the world needs dreams indeed.1”
But who is this Dream for?
Beijing answers that it is for peace, for the world, “The Chinese dream is a dream for peace. Adhering to peaceful development is China’s choice of the times. China stands for peace settlement for global disputes and issues and the new security concept of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and cooperation. The country strives for development under peaceful global circumstances and promotes world peace by self-development. China has actively participated in the dialogue and cooperation for international security. It has contributed to world peace.” But there is more to the Chinese Dream, “The Chinese dream is a dream for cooperation. The interrelation and interdependency of countries have deepened largely, and cooperation and mutual benefits have become a common view.2”
The new Chinese President Xi Jinping dreams of harmony for China and the rest of the world, “The Chinese dream is a dream for harmony …the Chinese dream belongs to the world.” Well, it is unfortunate that recent events on the ground do not reflect these high philosophical objectives. The South China Sea, the East China Sea as well as for the Himalayan borders between India and China, whether in Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Himachal or Arunachal Pradesh, have witnessed only tensions, not harmony.
Chinese Dream Passes Through an Innovative China
It is certain that India has to learn something from China in terms of ‘dreaming’. But first Delhi should realise the true objective behind the Chinese Dream which is to make China a dominant, self-reliant superpower. Very early in its history, the Communist leadership in China realised that the great renaissance of the nation was dependent on ‘innovation with Chinese characteristics’. Beijing has now taken decisive actions to remedy some of the nation’s deficiencies in this field. India has not yet done so.
The Chinese Dream goes hand-in-hand with military modernisation. It is not new but in the recent months it has been taken up by the new leadership in Beijing with renewed vigour.
On June 22, 2013, The South China Morning Post affirmed that, “China’s top scientific advisers have listed 19 projects as the research priorities of the next decade. These include quantum telecommunications and a high-performance jet engine that could dramatically improve the capability of its indigenous fighter jets.3”
According to the Hong Kong newspaper, the report was prepared by more than 200 experts associated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It was a roadmap for breaking into the US dominance in domains as diverse as military, space, new materials, energy or agriculture.
Though not all the projects have a direct military implication, ultimately, all the projects will help the progress of Chinese indigenous technology and most of them will have a dual use. The South China Morning Post stated, “The most eye-catching one is a new jet engine that promises to deliver thrust equivalent to 15 times its own weight. The thrust-to-weight ratio is a key indicator to measure a jet engine’s performance. In comparison, the Pratt & Whitney F119 turbofan engine that powers the American F-22 Raptor jet fighter has a thrust-to-weight ratio of eight and is widely considered one of the most advanced jet engines today.”
This particular field is usually considered to be the weakest in China’s aviation sector. Beijing has had to rely on imports mainly from Russia, for its fighter jets. Even China’s purported heavy-hacking activities have not so far been able to reduce the dependence on Russian technology. Of course, the Chinese plans for the new proposed engine have triggered wide-spread skepticism but the point is that China has the political will and the economic means to jump into such innovative adventures. The Chinese Dream goes hand-in-hand with military modernisation. It is not new but in the recent months it has been taken up by the new leadership in Beijing with renewed vigour.
History of Chinese ‘Innovations’
Following the ‘Two Weapons and One Satellite’ program included in the science and technology development plan for 1956-1967, China took the decision to overcome deficiencies in areas critical to its national security, initiating in March 1986 the National High Technology Program known as Program 863 – for 1986/03. Program 863 was launched to promote China’s high-tech development in key areas such as information technology, biology, aeronautics, automation, energy, materials and oceanography. Government institutes, university research laboratories and state-owned company R&D departments were all asked to participate in Program 863. The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) was the main recipient of the 863 funds.
What ‘assimilation’ and ‘re-innovation’ means is well-known from those who deal with China, “Importing technology without ‘transforming it into Chinese technology’ is not acceptable to China anymore”, the report states.
According to a Chinese official document, “In 1983, the United States put forward the Strategic Defence Initiative i.e. the Star Wars Initiative, then came the EURICA of Europe, …which are all strategic plans aimed at the twenty-first century. Implementation of those plans has created impacts on the great development of high technologies in the world.4” It was enough to convince the Communist leadership in Beijing to undertake a similar ‘indigenous program’, especially after four top scientists, Wang Daheng, Wang Ganchang, Yang Jiachi and Chen Fanyun submitted, in March 1986, a letter to leadership suggesting that China should adopt appropriate counter-measures to catch up with the development of high technologies in view of the impact on China of recent advancements in the world in the field of high technology. Deng Xiaoping immediately instructed the government, “Quick decision should be made on this matter without any delay.” It was done.
The 863 Program with the objectives, “to combine military use with civil use, with stress on the latter, limit objectives and concentrate on focal points”, was soon included in the Ninth Five-year Plan. Fifteen years later, another landmark document was published, “The National Medium and Long-Term Plan for the Development of Science and Technology (2006-2020)”, is also known as the MLP. The MLP describes itself as the ‘grand blueprint of science and technology development’ to bring about the ‘great renaissance of the Chinese nation’. The preamble calls for the Chinese people to, “seize the opportunities and meet the challenges brought by the new science and technology revolution…despite the size of our economy, our country is not an economic power, primarily because of our weak innovative capacity.”
An excellent report “China’s Drive for Indigenous Innovation” prepared by James McGregor for the Global Regulatory Cooperation Project of the US Chamber of Commerce says, “The MLP blueprint is full of grand visions, good intentions and gilded rhetoric about international cooperation and friendship. …It also sets goals for expanded cooperation with foreign universities, research centers and corporate R&D centers.5” The MLP defines indigenous innovation as “enhancing original innovation through co-innovation and re-innovation based on the assimilation of imported technologies.”
What ‘assimilation’ and ‘re-innovation’ means is well-known from those who deal with China, “Importing technology without ‘transforming it into Chinese technology’ is not acceptable to China anymore”, the report states. “One should be clearly aware that the importation of technologies without emphasizing the assimilation, absorption and re-innovation is bound to weaken the nation’s indigenous research and development capacity,”6 adds the MLP. The plan is often considered by many international technology companies to be a blueprint for technology theft on a scale the world has never seen before. That is not true innovation but re-innovation.
Many observers believe that the present Chinese system is not congenial to innovations…
A Few Innovations
When President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao came into office in March 2003 as the President of the PRC and Premier of the State Council respectively, innovation in science and technology was at the top of their minds, particularly as Beijing was to be the centre of the world for the 2008 Olympics. Apart from the launch of Shenzhou V, its first manned spacecraft and a first home-grown Chinese microprocessor invented by Chen Jin, a 35-year-old Fujian native with a University of Texas PhD working at Shanghai Jiaotong University. Apart from the microprocessor that had the capacity to process 200 million instructions per second, proudly fulfilling amany nearly two decade-long national goal, there was little innovation in China in 2003.
At the same time, the US employed some 62,500 Chinese-born science and engineering PhDs. Mainland natives were heading many American research laboratories and university departments. Further, most of the 60,000 Chinese students living in the US had been granted residence permits by President George Bush in 1990 in the aftermath of Tiananmen events. Interestingly, the ruling nine-member politburo Standing Committee was composed of eight engineers and one hydrologist. They could therefore grasp the importance of ‘innovation’.
McGregor explains, “With the rallying cry of ‘innovation’, Premier Wen in mid-2003 used his position as head of the Leading Group on Science, Technology and Education to bring together the two heavyweights of science and technology in China – the CAS and the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), to coordinate an old fashioned Soviet ‘big push’ style campaign.6” The ‘Nature’ magazine had a special issue (Fall 2004) with a collection of essays from prominent Chinese scientists also criticizing the draft plan for giving bureaucrats of MOST too much power over scientists. They believed that if megaprojects should remain the central focus, money was bound to be allocated to mediocre projects, based on ‘connections’, a well-known Chinese disease. It was suggested that the power of MOST over research funding should be reduced and perhaps the organisation ought to be disbanded altogether.
Assimilating and Absorbing
The idea of megaprojects for ‘Assimilating and Absorbing’ technology was mooted. It was an import substitute action plan in order to create Chinese indigenous innovations through ‘co-innovation’ and ‘re-innovation’ of foreign technologies. The megaprojects have an objective of ‘assimilating and absorbing’ imported advanced technologies to help the country to ‘develop a range of major equipment and key products that possess proprietary intellectual property rights’. The MLP speaks of ‘major carriers of uplifting indigenous innovation capacity’.
India depends in a large measure on imports.
While the MLP identified the goals and specific sectors in which government innovation was of strategic importance, the 11th Five-Year Plan issued in December 2007 formally detailed the 16 megaprojects. While 13 were listed, three remained classified.7 Michael Raska, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies (IDSS), quotes Professor Tai Ming Cheung, a leading scholar on China’s defence industries at the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California San Diego, suggesting that the three military megaprojects were8:
- Shenguang Laser Project for Inertial Confinement Fusion. The Shenguang (Divine Light) laser project explores the Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) as an alternative approach to attain Inertial Fusion Energy (IFE) – a controllable, sustained nuclear fusion reaction aided by an array of high-powered lasers.
- Second Generation Beidou Satellite Navigation System. According to Jane’s magazine, by the end of 2012, China had 16 operational Beidou satellites in orbit, six geostationary satellites, five Medium Earth Orbit spacecraft and five satellites in Inclined Geo-Stationary Orbits covering the Asia-Pacific region. By 2020, Beidou 2 envisions a full-scale system of at least five geostationary and 30 non-geostationary satellites providing a global coverage.
- Hypersonic Vehicle Technology Project. Available data show that China has started developing conceptual and experimental hypersonic flight vehicle technologies such as Hypersonic Cruise Vehicles (HCV) capable of manoeuvering at Mach 5 speeds (6,150+ km/h), flying in near-space altitudes.9
There is no doubt that even the ‘civilian’ innovations are useful to the defence sector in China.
Michael Raska says, “Taken together, China’s long-term strategic military programs are deeply embedded in her advancing civilian science and technology base, which in turn is increasingly linked to global commercial and scientific networks.” There is no doubt that even the ‘civilian’ innovations are useful to the defence sector in China.
China has her own problems; one is the rigidity of its bureaucracy functioning under the Communist Party. The Chinese are however serious about tackling the babudom. In April 2007, Party leaders nominated a former Audi engineer with great experience, Wan Gang, as MOST minister; it was the first non-communist party member acceding to minister rank in 35 years.
In June 2007, Wan Gang established a ‘Special Projects Office’, the equivalent of an economic zone headquarters to make sure that the megaprojects would not be buried by the bureaucracy. The megaprojects office was to evaluate applications, approve funding and closely monitor projects. The budget for each project was specific and identified both central and local government contributions. McGregor says, “This unprecedented high-level hands-on micromanagement demonstrates that the indigenous innovation program is the government’s highest strategic economic priority.” Of course, the 16 megaprojects which, as seen earlier have become 19 in 2013, have been a source of controversy and debate both in China and abroad.
Many observers believe that the present Chinese system is not congenial to innovations considering its structure and the restrictions imposed by the unique Party system. Though Xinhua announced than more than 1.02 million scientific theses have come from Chinese scientific and technical personnel in the past decade, the second-highest number worldwide, doubts still persist about the quality of the theses.
The Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China under the MOST, affirms that the quality has risen, “Theses published from 2002 to 2012 have been cited a total of 6.65 million times, ranking sixth in the world.10” The Institute adds, “More than 7,920 scientific theses qualify as ‘highly-cited theses’ or those among the top one per cent in terms of citations, climbing one place to rank fifth” but also admitting that “Chinese scientists in 2011 published 141 theses on Nature, Science, Cell and other world-class magazines and journals, moving down a spot from 2010 to rank tenth.” It is not easy to compete with the West in terms of innovation in this domain.
HAL hardly does any R&D other than development connected with a production project…
On July 2012, an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) entitled “China as an Innovation Centre? Not So Fast” warned that ‘innovations’ may take more time. Anil K Gupta and Haiyan Wang admitted that the Chinese ‘inputs’ in the field of innovation were very impressive, the R&D expenditure increased to 1.5 per cent of GDP in 2010 from 1.1 per cent in 2002, and should reach 2.5 per cent by 2020. Its share of the world’s total R&D expenditure grew to 12.3 per cent in 2010 from 5.0 per cent in 2002, placing it second only to the US whose share remained steady at 34 to 35 per cent.
But though the data looks impressive, “Yet there’s less here than meets the eye. Over 95 per cent of the Chinese applications were filed domestically with the State Intellectual Property Office. The vast majority cover Chinese ‘innovations’ that make only tiny changes on existing designs.”11 It does not mean that China is not trying hard to innovate. The regime gives itself the means to succeed one day.
The China Brief of the Jamestown Foundation recently mentioned China’s deployment of the world’s first operational Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) which was confirmed “with unprecedented clarity by the US Department of Defense (DOD). The ASBM’s development path was unusual in many respects, but may increasingly represent the shape of things to come for China’s defence industry.”
The US Department of Defence annual report to Congress on China’s Military spoke of the status of China’s DF-21D ASBM, “China continues to field an ASBM based on a variant of the DF-21 (CSS 5) medium range ballistic missile that it began deploying in 2010. Known as the DF-21D, this missile provides the PLA the capability to attack large ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific. The DF-21D has a range exceeding 1,500 km and is armed with a manoeuverable warhead.” For the US DOD, “It gives the PLA the capability to attack large ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific Ocean.” But where does this technology come from?
India is suffering from the same disease as China but despite the bureaucratic deficiencies, the leadership in Beijing has tremendous political will…
The same article of “The China Brief” answers this question. Chinese sources themselves have credited the US Pershing II missile with influencing the development of China’s DF-15C and DF-21 ballistic missiles, “Following the Pershing II’s deployment, initial ‘research work’ reportedly was completed in the early 1990s and incorporated into China’s Dong Feng (DF) missiles via a ‘warhead that possesses terminal homing guidance and manoeuvering control capability’.”
When they first saw missiles of the DF series, experts realized the relation with the Pershing II. An article published in Hong Kong by a mainland-owned daily stated, “When they saw the new-type intermediate-range missile in China’s ‘Dong Feng’ family during the latest military parade held on the National Day, people would certainly like to compare it with the ‘Pershing II’ missile, wouldn’t they?” This is called re-innovation.
Can India Achieve Such a Feat?
Especially in the defence sector, India depends in a large measure on imports. For many, the main reason is the lack of large-scale Research and Development (R&D). We shall take the example of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). A few months ago, Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of the Rafale selected in the MMRCA project, expressed doubts about the capacity of HAL to absorb French technology. Without even speaking about ‘innovations’, can HAL ‘digest’ French technology?
A source associated for decades with HAL explained that tremendous efforts need to be made in the domain of ‘research’, if India is serious about catching up with China and the West in the domain of ‘innovation’. Today, HAL hardly does any R&D other than development connected with a production project. There is no doubt that government or private-funded laboratories are needed for developing technologies which are comparable to the ones in the West. Unfortunately, top ranking Indian students after graduation head for the USA where they receive generous offers providing them satisfaction both in remuneration and the quality of work. It is these very talented young persons who need to be retained to do innovative work in Indian laboratories. This will happen only if India is able create world-class laboratories and offer competitive remuneration. The question remains about whether the Indian system will be able to be a top-class innovator.
Throughout China’s history, the established order saved little respect for inventors, entrepreneurs and business pioneers.
India is suffering from the same disease as China but despite the bureaucratic deficiencies, the leadership in Beijing has tremendous political will and adequate economic means to change this scenario in the years to come. This does not seem the case in India, at least under the current political dispensation. Take the case of the HAL’s HPT 32 Deepak trainer plane being discarded by the IAF, which ultimately inducted the Pilatus PC 7 from Switzerland. The alternative proposal from HAL for the HTT 40 (Turbo-prop trainer) was also not considered as it was still at the initial design stage. This raises serious doubts on the state of Indian research, once again without mentioning ‘innovations’. The lack of good leadership and weak design ability are some of the main HAL’s problems.
When Steve Jobs passed away, experts debated why China did not produce its own Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. One contributor to Forbes explained that the emergence of such ‘innovative’ entrepreneurs, “does not blend well with China’s culture of Confucian conformity to existing norms. Throughout China’s history, the established order saved little respect for inventors, entrepreneurs and business pioneers.” There is some truth in this, but the Confucian conformity added to the Communist bureaucracy and the supreme importance of the Party’s diktats is today balanced by a tremendous will to ‘innovate’ in order to materialise the Chinese Dream. The Indian Dream has unfortunately not even been formulated as yet. It is a great pity, because the ingredients (brains) are very much present.
- See, http://www.china.org.cn/china/2013-09/ 06/content_30044845.htm
- See, http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1266259/top-science-advisers-list-chinas-19-priority-projects-next-decade
- See, http://ie.china-embassy.org/eng/Science Tech/ScienceandTechnologyDevelopment Programmes/t112844.htm
- See, http://www.uschamber.com/sites/default/files/reports/100728chinareport_0.pdf
- Though not listed, China has built the world’s fastest supercomputer, almost twice as fast as the previous US holder. The Tianhe-2 developed by the National University of Defence Technology in central China’s Changsha city is capable of sustained computing of 33.86 petaflops per second.
- See, http://www.rsis.edu.sg/publications/Perspective/RSIS1632013.pdf
- To read about China’s advances in the field of space plane, see, http://www.chinasignpost.com/2012/05/shenlong-divine-dragon-takes-flight-is-china-developing-its-first-spaceplane/
- See, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2013-09/27/c_132756944.htm
- See, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903591104576469670146238648.html